TIPTON – Veterans at Tipton Correctional Center are being connected to support and resources thanks to a new program.
The Missouri Department of Corrections started a new focus on helping veteran offenders housed in its state prisons about two years ago with a pilot program at Moberly Correctional Center. The program includes creating a housing wing specifically for military veterans, offering support such as PTSD counseling, and connecting the offenders with resources for education, employment and health care. Since 2017, the program has been launched at several other centers, including Tipton earlier this year.
Sean Farmer, functional unit manager at Tipton Correctional, said the program is growing within DOC and at Tipton.
“It’s something we’re looking forward to, another way to help our offenders return home,” he said. “Ninety percent of our offenders are going home at some point, and our mission for the department is ‘Improving Lives for Safer Communities.’ That is what all these programs we do are about. If we can help them out the best we can, hopefully we can have safer communities. They’re not returning to nothing; they have some different tools to hopefully go down a different path.”
Tipton has space for 50 offenders in its veterans wing and so far 38 have opted in, including five who have already been released, according to Farmer. He said the program has been well received by offenders and staff, as well as outside agencies willing to provide support and services.
A Missouri Job Center representative from Sedalia visits the center at least twice a month to host a workshop with the whole unit and meet individually with the offenders to sign them up with the Missouri Works program. Once they are released, the offenders can visit the Job Center to receive help finding employment.
American Red Cross volunteers come at least once a month to present a workshop on topics such as anger management, PTSD or communication skills.
Staff works with Veterans Affairs to provide resources and to update offenders’ information.
They are also helping veterans outside of Tipton Correctional. Farmer said the veteran offenders are sanding and refinishing patio furniture and picnic tables for the Missouri Veterans Home in Warrensburg.
“The idea behind it was we knew that veterans have certain resources available to them that could aid in reentry so if we had a housing unit specifically for veterans, we could bring those resources in and aid them,” Farmer said. “Resources are there for them that aren’t generally there for the rest of the general population and the goal was to provide resources that reduce recidivism. If we can do anything to help them out, the better they’ll be when they go home.”
Another relatively new veterans resource program in Warrensburg is also helping with the Tipton program.
The University of Central Missouri received a $1.3 million federal grant in 2017 to create Veterans Upward Bound. The program serves a 10-county region and helps veterans develop academic and other skills needed for acceptance and success in a post-secondary education program.
Tonya Kuranda, director of Veterans Upward Bound at UCM, said it is one of only two in the state and about 60 nationwide. It must serve 125 veterans per year, with two-thirds being either low-income or first-generation college students.
“It’s a one-on-one intake, very individual. What you need is different than what another veteran needs,” she said. “We help them develop attainable goals and identify resources. Sometimes it’s just connecting them to resources that were not communicated to them.”
Her staff helps with academic preparation, counseling, tutoring, applying for VA benefits, connecting with outside resources like housing and food assistance, motivation, and advocacy.
“We morph into whatever we need to be for that veteran,” she said.
Kuranda is an Air Force veteran and her husband is stationed at Whiteman Air Force Base. Several staff members are veterans as well, and she said that helps them connect with the clients.
The Tipton-Upward Bound partnership started when Farmer and some colleagues attended a resource fair at State Fair Community College to find services for the veterans and they met Kuranda, who had a booth at the event.
The partnership began less than two months ago, so Kuranda is still figuring out how to best serve the veterans, but initial assessments have begun. Upward Bound helps with more than just attending a four-year college and participants are not required to attend UCM.
Kuranda said 27 of the Tipton veterans have applied for Upward Bound and most are interested in attending vocational or trade schools, although a few want to attend a four-year school. Farmer said one veteran wants to get his tattooing license and they are helping him do so.
“I have one who was a welder for 15 years who just wants to get recertified. Now we’re getting him welding prep test material that he’s going to now be studying before he gets out for his test,” she said. “Another, he started crying when he told us this – his CDL expires in July, which is his birthday. He’s like, the written test is very difficult, if I can get some study materials for the CDL exam, that would be so helpful. He said his license has never expired.
“… We’re ordering them the materials they need, which aren’t the typical school materials, but they are what the veteran needs to reintegrate and to be successful. Their definition of success may not be a four-year college degree.”
Farmer said adding Upward Bound to the veterans wing services has “been a real positive program for our institution.”
“Offenders working with them are excited because it’s something they didn’t think they were going to get to do because of their crimes and being in prison, they thought some of the assistance wasn’t there,” he said. “… There’s a lot of excitement in our population with that program because they see how it’ll benefit them, and it’s been a good tool to enhance our program at the prison because they see we’re getting programs to help them better their lives.”